Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Australians living with a disability have worst quality of life in developed world

From the Sydney Morning Herald in Australia:

Australians living with a disability have the worst quality of life in the developed world and their employment opportunities have hit rock bottom, according to a report issued today.

Almost half of Australians with a disability live in or near a state of poverty. Globally, Australia is at the bottom of the heap, ranked last out of 27 Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development countries. Those with a disability are 2.7 times more likely to be poor. The nation fares little better in employment opportunities, 21st out of 29 OECD countries.

The report, Disability Expectations - Investing In A Better Life, A Stronger Australia, showed there was an employment rate of 39.8 per cent for people with disabilities compared with 79.4 per cent for those without a disability.

The former NSW health minister and national campaign director for the National Disability Insurance Scheme: Every Australian Counts, John Della Bosca, said: ''We should aim to leapfrog our way to the top of those rankings. Fairness is part of our national character, and if we adopt the positions in this report, there is no reason why we can't.''

The report, produced by PricewaterhouseCoopers, carried a message of support from the Governor-General, Quentin Bryce, who said it highlighted the need for ''a cultural shift in attitudes towards Australians living with a disability; from passive sympathy and understanding, to actively encouraging and championing a better quality of life.''

The findings bolstered the need for a crystallised commitment from the federal, state and territory governments for the National Disability Insurance Scheme with clear funding outlines, Mr Della Bosca said.

A PricewaterhouseCoopers partner, John Walsh - who is quadriplegic - said it was clear the disability network was broken. ''To bring about change, we need more than a funding solution. Change needs to occur at every level of the system - from people with disability and their families to specialist disability support organisations, to mainstream service providers.''

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

In England, baby with Down syndrome becomes modeling sensation

From The Daily Mail in the UK:

The camera just loves little Taya Kennedy. Wide-eyed, cheeky, engaged; she brims with the confidence of a natural performer. It is little wonder that she has taken the child-modelling world by storm.

The fact that 14-month-old Taya also has Down’s Syndrome is quite incidental. She was selected, not to fulfil a quota, tick a box or adhere to the dictums of some politically-correct code of positive discrimination. Taya was picked because, quite simply, she is a star.

‘Taya is an incredibly photogenic, warm and smiley child, and that shines through in her photographs,’ says Alysia Lewis, owner of Urban Angels, the prestigious UK model agency that has signed her up.

‘We only open our books twice a year and select just a few new children each season.

'The standard is high; the desire for places strong. Taya is one of 50 children we chose from 2,000 applicants.

‘That she has Down’s Syndrome did not enter the equation. We chose her because of her vibrancy and sense of fun. Not all children are comfortable in front of a lens and with a photographer looking at them — especially when they are so young. But Taya was so relaxed and happy. She was just what we were looking for.’

Retailers, including the Early Learning Centre and Mothercare, are already queuing up to feature the bright-eyed toddler in their advertising campaigns.

And Taya’s devoted mum, Gemma Andre, couldn’t be more proud.

‘I always believed my daughter was stunning but I thought, “I’m her mum. I’m biased,”’ she says.

‘When the agency rang me and said, “We want her on our books. She’s absolutely beautiful”, I was delighted.

‘I asked them if they were aware she had Down’s Syndrome. They said: “It’s immaterial. We’ve accepted her.” At that moment I burst into tears. I was overjoyed, not so much because Taya was going to be a model. More importantly, she had competed on equal terms with every other child and succeeded.

‘People can be really negative about children with Down’s. They say they can’t do this and won’t be able to achieve that. It’s incredibly frustrating. Someone said to me the other day: “I suppose she’ll never be able to live an independent life,” and I said, “Why on earth not?”

‘When people say “poor you” I find it offensive and irritating. The way I see it, some people cannot even have children and God has given me this special child.’

The story of Taya, her single-minded mum and proud father Robbie Kennedy is an uplifting one. Gemma, 29, a mortgage adviser with Santander, has never accepted that constraints must be imposed on her daughter because she has a disability.

She refuses to countenance the negative and believes that her only child is capable of achieving any dream, however elevated.

‘Already Taya attends a mainstream nursery,’ she says.

‘Her father and I want her to go to an ordinary school, too. After her birth, I was given a list of things she wouldn’t achieve; accomplishments she could never hope to master.

‘It was so dispiriting. I was told her teeth would not all develop. But already she has seven baby teeth. I was warned she would be slow to speak. But she already says “dad, mum, nana, cat and ta”.

‘So now I take no notice of what the experts say.

'And I am determined Taya will have as many chances in life as any other child. I want her to go to dancing school. She loves music and has a sense of rhythm; she sways and claps her hands when I sing to her.

'After her birth, I was given a list of things she wouldn't achieve; accomplishments she could never hope to master. It was so dispiriting... Now I take no notice of what the experts say,' said Gemma

‘I’m already saving for her to have driving lessons. I have a fund for her to go to university. I want to prove to Taya that any goal in life is attainable. It doesn’t matter that she has Down’s Syndrome. She can still achieve. I want her to be an inspiration to others.’

If Gemma sounds optimistic, it is because Taya has already defied so many of the experts’ other predictions about her future too.

‘I was told that children with Down’s Syndrome are not expected to walk until they are three to five years old,’ says Gemma.

‘But Taya is already standing. She is a strong little character and her physiotherapist has told me that she thinks she will be walking by Christmas.

‘Her muscle tone is excellent; just like a normal child’s. So it would be the best present I could have if Taya took her first steps on Christmas Day.’

Taya, however, has not surpassed such milestones by luck alone, for Gemma has exceptional reserves of grit and determination: ‘I’ve played games with her to develop her muscles; I do exercises with her. She stands on my knees and her little legs are firm. I’ve bought her a toy animal with a swivelling seat that bounces. She shrieks with laughter when she plays on it. She loves it and it also strengthens her legs.’

Gemma and Robbie have always refused to dwell on the limitations imposed by their daughter’s condition. Instead they have fostered her strengths.

Supported by her mum, Diane, 58, a social worker whose area of expertise is disabled children,

Gemma has discovered that Taya responds well to visual stimulation.
‘She likes sensory toys: light tubes, bubbles, mirrors. She reacts positively when we mime to her, so the whole family is learning sign language.’

Taya was born in September 2010. Although the pregnancy was not planned, Gemma and her partner of three years Robbie, 23, who works in banking administration, were delighted. Gemma had been prudent with money. She owns two properties, one of them the pleasant detached house in Bradford that is her home.

‘I had no debts, a good job; I knew I could give our baby a good quality of life,’ she says.

Gemma decided against having any tests that would disclose whether her baby had Down’s. She knew they could increase the risk of miscarriage; besides, she and Robbie had resolved to love whatever child they were blessed with.

But looking back, she sometimes wonders if she intuitively might have known something might be wrong with her baby: ‘I remember thinking, “I haven’t drunk any alcohol, or smoked, or even been in an environment where there was smoke. I’ve taken the right nutritional supplements. If my baby is disabled it will not be my fault.’

Nonetheless, when she gave birth to her 5lb 3oz baby girl, she had no inkling that anything was wrong.

‘I remember thinking, “She has beautiful oval eyes. They look Oriental.” When Robbie cut the cord we both cried with happiness.’

Ten minutes later their joy was abruptly usurped by fear and anxiety.
‘A doctor told us, “I think she has Down’ s Syndrome” and then he just walked away.

‘From that moment I was mourning for the child I hadn’t had. We couldn’t help but selfishly wonder why this had happened to us. We weren’t prepared for it. We couldn’t celebrate. We felt numb and grief-stricken; just devastated.’

Bit by bit, the extent of Taya’s disabilities emerged.

‘Down’s Syndrome babies are born with very poor muscle tone. Taya was more floppy than a rag doll. It was as if she had no bones,’ recalls Gemma.

‘She had a single crease in her palm, a gap between her toes and a flat nose that signals sinus problems. She has deficiencies in her sight and hearing, her bowels and heart.

'Tests showed her heart had two holes in it, but we were told not to worry, that she would be unaffected by the condition. All these things, we knew, were characteristic of Down’s children.

‘We didn’t know what to expect or hope for. We were literally sent home with a booklet. But from that moment I knew I had to fight Taya’s corner, to research everything I could about her condition and do all I could to ensure she would have every chance in life.’

She began by challenging the doctors who insisted she would be unable to breastfeed: ‘They dismissed the idea as soon as Taya was born. They said she could not suckle because Down’s children have over-sized tongues and weak jaw muscles.

‘But I was determined to prove them wrong. For a month I went to a breast-feeding class. I knew it would boost Taya’s weakened immune system if I fed her. It would also help with her speech because it would strengthen her jaw muscles. I wanted to do all I could to give her the best start. In the end I breastfed her for nine months.’

Taya, despite her disabilities, has a sunny disposition.

‘She wakes up with a smile on her face and goes to sleep smiling. She hardly ever cries,’ says her mum. ‘I was worried at first because she was so peaceful.’

And even when, aged two-and-a-half months, Taya was rushed into hospital for an emergency operation to repair the holes in her heart — she spent three days in intensive care, her condition critical — Gemma recalls that she was not only robust and quick to recover, but that her cheerfulness did not falter.

‘With Taya you get the whole package: she has her difficulties, but she is clever, strong and she laughs all the time. She has such an expressive little face. People say, “Don’t you wish she was a normal child?” but without her disability she wouldn’t be Taya, so we wouldn’t change anything about her.’

Gemma is an unashamedly proud mum, and like any other she has taken photos of her baby and charted her development daily in video clips.

Taya, in turn, has learned to pose for the camera. She beams on cue and is always alert and interested. Even so, Gemma had never thought her little girl — beautiful though she is — could be a model.

It was her cousin Eletta, 30, who planted the seed in her mind. Eletta is raising five children, her own three and her nine-year-old twin brothers after her mother died in a car crash.

It was Eletta who proposed Gemma look at the Urban Angels’ website. She liked the ethos of the company, its ethnically-diverse range of models and its philosophy of inclusion. Its list of clients was impressive, too.

It provides children for advertising campaigns for a huge range of companies, from Burberry and Stella McCartney to The White Company and GAP, as well as Sainsbury’s, M&S, ASDA and H&M.

‘It would not have occurred to me to put Taya forward unless Eletta had suggested it,’ says Gemma.

‘But I decided to send a couple of pictures I’d taken on my iPhone. There was an application form to fill in, too. No one asked the question, “Is your child disabled?” So I didn’t mention it.

‘Soon afterwards, I got a call from a woman at the agency who said: “We loved your pictures. Could you come to Manchester with your daughter for a photo shoot?”

‘I thought we had nothing to lose. Mum said, “You should tell them Taya has Down’s”, but I decided not to. I didn’t want her to be chosen as the token disabled child. If she was going to be picked, then it had to be on her own merit.’

And it was quickly evident that Taya loved the camera. The pictures of her, mesmerised by bubbles, chuckling with glee, resplendent in a frothy white dress, are entrancing. I wonder if we will see her one day modelling on a catwalk?

Gemma laughs. ‘Taya is an amazing child,’ she says. ‘I suppose anything is possible.’

Monday, November 28, 2011

Seattle double amputee battles paratriathlon, wins silver in Beijing

From msnbc:

BEIJING – The first time I met Andre Kajlich (pictured) he was dodging Beijing traffic – in a racing wheelchair.

"Oh yeah, it was good out there," he told me, a huge smile on his face. "You should have seen the look I got from the bus driver."

Kajlich had traveled from his Seattle home to the Chinese capital to take part in the world championship of one of the world's most demanding sports – the paratriathlon. And taking his wheelchair for a spin on the highway was just one of his ways of tuning up.

Kajlich is a double amputee. When he lost his legs in a subway accident eight years ago, doctors doubted he would ever walk again – even with prosthetics. But he was determined to prove them wrong.

"No matter what, I was going to do everything I could do," he said. And entering the grueling world of the triathlon is just his latest challenge, winning a place in the Beijing contest after just one year in the sport.

"It gives you perspective on what you are capable of, really of what everybody's capable of," he told me. "You can choose what you want to do, and once you make up your mind you are going to get there no matter what it takes."

It's an inspirational message he's been taking to other young American amputees. He and his sister Bianca, an actress, are counselors at the annual Paddy Rosebach youth camp, a summer gathering for 10- to 17-year-old amputees, which was held this year in Clarksville, Ohio.

"I try to get them to look at their goals and to focus on those and to make up their minds, make the same choices I did, that you are going to get there no matter what, and try to put the other stuff aside."

And he told me that he in turn had found the young amputees a huge inspiration as he prepared for Beijing.

The triathlon took place around (and in) the Ming Tombs Reservoir at the foot of the mountains that rise to the north of Beijing. It had been the triathlon venue during the 2008 Olympics.

There were nine contestants in Kajlich's category. "It's going to take a special effort from me," he said.

The first part of the race was a half-mile swim that left him in fourth place, followed by a quick change to his hand bike, where he made up a further place over the twelve mile course. The final three miles were in racing wheelchairs, where Kajlich clawed back another place - finishing second. It was a silver medal for the paratriathlon rookie.

His smile after the race was broader than ever: "How about that? Dude, I was just knocking them down."

On his last day in Beijing we traveled with Kajlich to the Great Wall of China, where he was determined to climb amid the holiday crowds along some of the steep sections that are tough enough at the best of times.

But it didn't surprise me by then. This is one very determined young man, and he became an instant celebrity. At one point, people were lining up to shake his hand and have their photographs taken with him.

There is a tendency in China for people to stare at those who are different. Kajlich was wearing shorts, his prosthetic legs clearly showing. I asked him whether all the attention bothered him. Not at all, he said.

"They're nice about it. They're not poking fun at me or anything,” he said.

Then came another request for a photo. "Send me a copy," he said. "Maybe one day I'll see you in Seattle."

At this point I was getting a bit worried about how far we'd come and suggested we make our way back. I was afraid he might be getting tired, but he wasn't through yet.

"One of the reason I made up my mind to use the prosthetics was to get around in places like this," he said.

We did take a break though, because by then I was the one wanting to pause for breath. I asked him what he planned next. Maybe skiing, maybe bobsledding, he said. "There are so many things I'd like to get out there and try and do. I'll do them. I'll figure a way."

As if to stress that point, he'd gone on after Beijing to Kona, Hawaii to compete in the Ironman World Championships, where he beat his own time goals, and came second in his division.

"I've made it through my first Ironman," he told me in an e-mail. "And did pretty well."

And having spent some time with Kajlich I wouldn't have expected anything less.

In Colorado, deaf couple sues after man locked in jail 25 days with no access to sign-language interpreter

From The Denver Post:

When Adams County sheriff's deputies knocked down the motel-room door of a deaf couple, slammed the man to the ground and locked him in jail for 25 days without providing a sign-language interpreter, they violated the Americans With Disabilities Act, a federal lawsuit says.

Lawyers for Timothy Siaki claim the man was not provided an interpreter until he went to court on domestic assault charges last year. Siaki eventually was cleared of the charges, said Kevin Williams, an attorney who filed the suit on behalf of Siaki and his fiancee, Kimberlee Moore.

"There were 25 days of his life that he had access to nothing — no information on why he was being held, no information about his case or what was going to happen to him," Williams said.

The Colorado Cross-Disability Coalition advocacy group is also a plaintiff in the suit. Adams County Sheriff Doug Darr is named as the defendant.

An Adams County Sheriff's Office spokesman on Friday did not have any comment on the lawsuit, saying officials needed to review it first.

The suit asks for damages for Siaki and Moore and to find that Adams County is violating the ADA by not providing an interpreter nor auxiliary aids for deaf suspects during their arrest and booking process.

The suit claims Adams County also does not provide aids and services to deaf inmates to communicate with people outside the jail while the same privileges are provided for those with normal hearing.

"They need policies and procedures for folks who are deaf," Williams said. "People just assume that a deaf person understands what they are saying."

Williams said the coalition recently settled a similar case against the Lakewood Police Department and the Jefferson County Sheriff's Office. The settlements require very specific policies for compliance with the ADA to ensure deaf people can communicate with police officers and jail deputies.

According to the lawsuit, Siaki and Moore were staying at a Super 8 Motel at 5888 Broadway on May 14, 2010, when they began arguing.

Both communicate by American Sign Language, as Siaki does not speak, read or write English. He also does not read lips. Moore has a limited ability to speak, read and write in English and can occasionally read lips, the suit said.

Like many deaf people, Siaki and Moore both "verbalize sounds which, to a person who is not deaf or who is unfamiliar, may sound like the deaf person is speaking loudly or abruptly," according to the suit.

Their fight resulted in a noise complaint. Two Adams County deputies broke down the motel room door, entered with their guns drawn and ordered Siaki to the floor, the suit said.

Both deputies learned after their arrival that Siaki was deaf. But since he was unable to understand the deputies' commands, one of the deputies grabbed Siaki's left arm and forced him to the floor.

The deputy also said Siaki refused to write down his version of the events. Moore, meanwhile, tried to tell the deputies that Siaki did not hurt her but could not because she was not provided an interpreter or any aids.

The two were separated, and Siaki was evaluated by medical intake personnel at the jail. Still, he was not provided a sign-language interpreter.

Siaki stayed in jail from May 15 until June 10, unable to comprehend jail policies and procedures, the suit said.

He was eventually assigned a public defender, and he was cleared in the criminal case, Williams said.

"To this day," he said, "we don't know why he was held for 25 days."

Saturday, November 26, 2011

Sex laws are making it difficult for people with disabilities to exercise their right to access prostitutes, advocacy groups in Australia say

From The Mercury in Australia:

Sex laws are making it difficult for people with disabilities to exercise their right to access prostitutes, advocacy groups say.

Brothel bans make the disabled vulnerable to unscrupulous operators and put their health at risk, they say.

One man was repeatedly harassed by a prostitute and her male associate, the Sunday Tasmanian was told.

The pair drove the man to an ATM and demanded cash, it was alleged.

Speak Out Association of Tasmania spokeswoman Julie Butler said prostitutes went "underground" when law changes in 2005 banned brothels and meant sex workers could only be self-employed.

"The sex workers we recommended disappeared, they didn't have the same numbers and weren't operating from the same venues," she said.

"The only way we can contact a worker is out of the [news]paper now.

"We're really concerned because we don't know the reputation of the people and we don't know what sort of health that person is in.

"We're reluctant to help people access sex workers."

Ms Butler said the laws also made it difficult for people with a disability to keep their sex sessions private from family members who oversee their finances.

She urged the State Government to introduce legislation that made it safer and easier for people to exercise their right to access a sex worker.

The Department of Health and Human Services sets out guidelines for carers and support workers to assist people with disabilities to access sex workers.

"Access to a sex worker should be seen as one of a number of options to consider when supporting people with disabilities to make decisions about their sexual needs," the guidelines state.

"Staff members who provide physical assistance to enable people with disabilities to access the services of a sex worker will not, merely by so doing, breach any law in Tasmania provided that they deal only with a self-employed sex worker."

Adult industry body Eros chief executive Fiona Patten (pictured) said: "You have health professionals and aged-care workers who see the sex industry as a valuable tool for providing services to their clients, yet the lawmakers do not take a commonsense approach to this and regulate the industry as they should."

She said current legislation was "dangerous for [sex] workers and dangerous for the clients".

"The industry is now underground in Tasmania," she said.

"Nearly every other state in Australia treats sex workers [the same] as any other worker and awards them the same working conditions and entitlements as any other worker."

Ms Patten, who is also head of the Australian Sex Party, said the State Government was sweeping issues in the sex industry under the carpet by delaying the release of a discussion paper.

"They feel that somehow if they discuss this issue it connects them in some way to the industry," she said.

"There are very vocal minorities that oppose the industry, and they are loud, and it does create this situation of inertia.

"So the Government just turns a blind eye to it because it's contentious and they know they won't be able to make everyone happy."

Attorney-General Brian Wightman was due to release a discussion paper on the sex industry in July.

Mr Wightman said "competing priorities" had delayed the release, and now it was planned to make the paper public early next year.

In Maryland, blind man files DOJ complaint, says paramedics prevented guide dog from traveling with him

From The Baltimore Sun:

A 62-year-old blind man has filed a complaint with the U.S. Department of Justice claiming Baltimore paramedics refused to allow his service dog to accompany him in an ambulance after he was struck by a car.

Curtis Graham Jr., a Marine who served in Vietnam, was on his way to the city's Veterans Day parade on Nov. 11 when he was hit by a car near his West Baltimore home. Paramedics would not allow Indo, his 2-year-old golden Labrador retriever, into the ambulance, Graham said.

U.S. Department of Justice "They refused to take a service animal who I need very much," said Graham, who suffered minor injuries. "He is my eyes."

Baltimore City Fire Department spokesman Kevin Cartwright said the incident was under investigation. He confirmed that a blind man was struck by a car and taken to a hospital by ambulance, and said he believed the victim's guide dog had not been transported.

Cartwright said that to his knowledge, the department did not have a policy on service animals.

A spokesman for the National Federation for the Blind said first responders are "legally obligated to transport the service animal" under Maryland law.

"You're basically taking the blind person's way of understanding his environment away from him," said federation spokesman Chris Danielsen. "I have no idea what sort of irrational thought process was behind not letting the dog in the ambulance, but that is an act of discrimination," he said.

Graham said he had planned to take the subway to join in the city's Veterans Day parade, then head to the National Aquarium, where he volunteers at the information desk. Graham, a retired bus driver, has relied on a guide dog since 2006, when he lost his sight to glaucoma.

Graham said he and Indo were crossing Cold Spring Lane near Dolfield Avenue when a car making a left turn plowed into them.

"My dog took the blow because he was trying to protect me," he said. "By the grace of God, he wasn't hurt."

Graham said he was flung onto the hood of the car and carried about 10 feet before he rolled off. Paramedics quickly arrived and strapped Graham to a board to stabilize him, but balked when he said Indo needed to accompany him.

"They were going to leave my dog on the pavement, and I wasn't going to have it," he said. "I said, 'The hell you ain't. He's a service dog.' I said, 'If you don't take my dog, I ain't going.'"

Graham eventually called the apartment complex where he lives, and a maintenance worker came to retrieve Indo.

"He was upset and I was upset," Graham said of the dog. "He didn't want to go as they were taking me away in the ambulance."

Danielsen said guide dogs are highly trained and would not cause problems in an ambulance or a hospital. And, he said, it's a misdemeanor to separate a guide dog from a blind person.

Graham was taken to Sinai Hospital, where doctors determined he had bruises and swelling. He was treated and released. Graham said it was disorienting to be in the hospital without his guide dog.

"As far as I'm concerned, they violated my civil rights," he said. "We're partners, and it's against [the] law for them to separate the team."

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

In Spokane, Wash., 650 miles of missing sidewalks barrier to independence for some people with disabilities

From The Spokesman-Review in Wash.:

There are 970 miles of streets in Spokane. Along them there are some 650 miles of missing sidewalks, if you consider both sides of the street. Where sidewalks exist, there often aren’t accessible ramps at intersections, and businesses and homeowners often neglect to clear them in the winter.

Advocates for people with disabilities say the condition of sidewalks is a major barrier for many who want to live more independently.

“They can be very atrocious or perfectly wonderful,” said Muriah Barela, who uses an electric wheelchair. “It’s kind of a crapshoot.”

Barela, who is an independent living adviser for the Coalition of Responsible Disabled, said some wheelchair users have gotten used to riding into streets when lack of ramps or broken sidewalks block their paths.

“There are also those such as myself who don’t go out a lot without someone else because they don’t feel safe,” said Barela, who worries she could tip and get stranded while detouring into streets, and so relies almost entirely on paratransit services.

The city is developing two plans to address the city’s sidewalk deficiencies. One is the city’s pedestrian plan, which will detail priorities for improving sidewalks as money becomes available. Another is a plan for complying with the Americans with Disabilities Act – a plan that is required but was either lost or never written. Additionally, the City Council may consider an ordinance in the coming months that would make it more difficult for the city to skip fixing sidewalks when rebuilding a street.

The Spokane City Council sparked a debate on sidewalks earlier this year when it narrowly voted to set aside 10 percent of the revenue from the city’s new vehicle tab tax to pay for sidewalks. Supporters said it was time to dedicate a source of money to the city’s neglected pedestrian routes. Opponents said there is too much backlog in street needs to earmark money for walkers.

Filling in the gaps won’t be easy. Property owners generally are responsible for sidewalks, and in many cases the city would have to purchase additional property to install them, said Dave Steele, a city planner working on the pedestrian plan. So part of the goal of the pedestrian plan is to focus on areas with the most need, such as neighborhoods near schools, parks, heavily used bus stops and commercial districts.

Eldon Brown, principal engineer of developer services who started work with the city in 1976, said missing sidewalks are the result of old rules that allowed the city engineer to determine if sidewalks would be required for certain projects.

“There were a lot of exceptions that were granted,” Brown said.

That law was tightened in the 1980s to make it difficult to grant builder exceptions for sidewalk requirements.

There are missing sidewalks throughout the city, but mostly in areas developed in the 1950s and ’60s, especially around Shadle Park and in southeast Spokane, Steele said.

Kerry Brooks, an associate professor of landscape architecture at Washington State University-Spokane, has studied sidewalks in Spokane with the help of a federal grant through the Spokane Transit Authority.

The goal was to determine barriers to people with disabilities using the bus.

“Just because you get off at an accessible bus stop, could you actually get to your destination?” said Brooks, who also is a city plan commissioner. “In the ideal world you should be able to walk everywhere there is a road and not feel in danger.”

Kitty Hennessey, who lives with her family near Ferris High School, attended an open house about the pedestrian plan this summer to express concern about the lack of sidewalks between Ferris High School and Chase Middle School, along 37th Avenue.

She called the situation “awful” and said she is concerned a student will be killed or severely injured.

“The traffic has increased in intensity and there are no sidewalks,” she said.

More controversial is the complete street ordinance. The City Plan Commission will consider it on Dec. 14.

Councilman Jon Snyder said he’s hopeful it will come to a City Council vote by the end of the year.

The proposal would in part require that infrastructure detailed in the pedestrian and bicycle plans be installed during major reconstruction projects. Any project funded by the street bond approved in 2004 would be exempt, but not projects paid by a new bond, which may go on a ballot in the next few years. Minor repaving projects would only force the city to paint stripes designating bike or pedestrian lanes, as called for in the two plans.

Councilman Bob Apple argues that a complete street rule would doom a future bond vote because citizens can afford to pay for only so much.

“The problem is, where do you stop?” Apple said.

The current bond project has generally paid only for street pavement. An exception has been to install accessible sidewalk ramps at intersections.

But Snyder said skipping sidewalks is shortsighted and financially irresponsible. A lack of sidewalks forces governments to spend more on bus services for people with disabilities, for instance. And some areas are limited in development because of missing infrastructure such as fire hydrants, he said. He added that some grants require cities to have complete street rules on the books to qualify for funding.

The current makeup of the council could shift at the end of the year. One of the biggest supporters on the council for complete streets, Councilman Richard Rush, is trailing former councilman Mike Allen by 98 votes. The race is headed for a recount. Without Rush on the council, it’s unclear a complete streets ordinance could be approved.

Mayor-elect David Condon said he needs to see the proposal before commenting. Council President-elect Ben Stuckart said he supports moving ahead before the new council is seated.

“Streets should be built for all users,” Stuckart said.

But Councilman-elect Mike Fagan said the ordinance would prohibit voters from having a choice between a tax for streets only and a tax that would include sidewalks and other amenities.

“I believe that there are a lot higher priorities in the city between now and the end of the year,” Fagan said.

Kevin Daniel, executive director of the Inland Northwest Lighthouse, a nonprofit manufacturing firm that provides jobs to people who are blind, stressed that sidewalks benefit more than just those who have disabilities.

“People being able to see Spokane as a livable city is important to all of us as we grow,” Daniel said.

In China, lack of developed support network adds to burden of parents with autistic children

From first part of Xinhua story:

BEIJING -- Lack of developed support network adds to parents' burden, He Na reports in Qingdao, Shandong province.

Most people would be upset if you thought they looked 10 years older than their real age. Wang Yonglin, 35, has learned to smile and say he's used to it.

Once an energetic, sports-minded man, Wang is thin and looks tired. He has a few gray hairs. The changes began in 2009.

"I found my daughter was different from other kids," said Wang, who lives in Qingdao, in East China's Shandong province.

"She was easily irritated or annoyed, often murmured to herself, didn't like talking and paying attention to others. She did not like watching cartoons, but was only interested in the weather forecast."

Realizing that her behavior was not just quirky, Wang and his wife, Li Ping, took their daughter to a nearby hospital for tests.

The results of a series of examinations, including an intelligence test, eventually showed that their daughter was autistic.

The term refers to people who appear withdrawn from the outside world, who are self-absorbed and do not communicate with others. It covers a wide range of behavior and severity.

"Autism? I hadn't heard of the word before. And the doctor said straight-out that we needed to be mentally ready to accept that fact, because children who have autism will have it all their lives and there is no cure at present," Wang said.

Though he held the test results in his hands that day, he still hoped the doctor had been wrong. When daughter Jia Jia gets older, he thought, the situation can be better. But it has been more than two years, and there's been no improvement.

"I sent her to primary school, and the teacher complained that my daughter was seldom listening during class and was always looking down and playing with the little gadget in her hands," he said. The day's gadget could be anything - a pencil, a watch, a scoop.

Last month, they took Jia Jia, who is now 6, to Qingdao Children's Hospital on the chance she had recovered or that the original diagnosis was wrong. The result tore his hope to shreds.

"I felt my world collapse," said Wang, a former nonsmoker who now goes through two packs a day.

Wang and Li often feel hopeless, he said. They cannot sleep through an entire night and have even thought of suicide. "We gave up the idea finally, for who will take care of her if my wife and I die?

"You know, the most difficult thing is you have tried your best, but still can't see any hope. And even without hope, you still have to smile to face an innocent daughter every day."

Doctors suggested that Jia Jia is still young enough that some improvement is possible, so Wang and Li have sent her to a specialized school for language and basic behavior training.

"I do not expect too much for her future," Wang said, "but do wish she will be able to take care of herself when we are too old to look after her."

Feeling marooned

The couple thought they were the unluckiest people, stranded alone in the world with such a problem, but there are millions like them. The World Health Organization estimates that China has at least 1 million children with autism.

And autism is ranked No 1 among mental disorders in China, according to a presentation on Nov 4 at the International Autism Research Collaboration Development Conference in Shanghai. The data include only diagnoses in hospitals and research centers, so the actual number may be much higher, experts warned.

"You can't tell that children are autistic just by looking at them," said Hu Qinbo, president of Qingdao Shengzhiai Rehabilitation Center. "But when you stay with them for a while, you will find their behavior to be abnormal."

The center opened in 2003, and has 31 autistic students ages 3 to 12. They arrive at 8 am and leave at 4:30 pm five days a week.

"The core symptoms of autistic children are impaired social interaction and communication, restricted and repetitive behavior, and language barrier," Hu said.

One of them is 3-year-old Le Le. The little girl from China's Northeast has a round face, big eyes and long lashes. Her hair is tied up in colored rubber bands, and she's as cute as can be in her red sweater and a yellow vest.

But Le Le never talks, never plays with others. She can make some sounds to express her mood, but cannot speak.

"Le Le, which one is yellow?" asked Li Chao, a teacher at the center who just began their one-to-one class. The little girl kept staring at the building blocks but did not respond. Li repeated the question several times, but Le Le appeared to not hear it.

Monday, November 21, 2011

New Jersey offers work support for disabled individuals

From The Daily Journal in NJ:

TRENTON, N.J. – New Jersey is advancing a philosophy that promotes competitive employment for individuals with disabilities through an intrastate agency partnership that allows individuals to pursue and maintain employment while receiving in-home or community support, as needed.

With the Department of Labor and Workforce Development’s Division of Vocational Rehabilitation Services, the Department of Human Services provides Supported Employment Services for people with developmental disabilities. Eligible individuals who receive these services, or who work part-time, also can receive a day service to supplement a part-time schedule.

“As we assist people with developmental disabilities in living as independently as possible, we strive to provide the individual supports necessary for them to achieve competitive employment,” Human Services Commissioner Jennifer Velez. “Employment expands opportunities for individual development, personal accomplishment and financial stability.”

To maximize competitive employment choices for consumers, the state provides funding for the initial phases of employment including pre-placement and training. Once an individual is employed and the initial support have ended, the state is able to provide continued funding for follow-along services that assist the person in maintaining employment.

The services occur through contracts with private vendors and qualified agencies.

Additionally, through NJ Workability, consumers are able to work and still retain important safety net benefits such as Medicaid, Social Security Income or Social Security Disability Insurance.

Texas mom creates video helping kids with autism to excel in school environments

From the San Antonio Express-News in Texas:

Jennifer and Herb Allen long suspected something was different with their son Sam. When he finally received the diagnosis of Asperger's syndrome, it was, Jennifer Allen said, as if they'd been hit by a giant wave, spinning their world on its axis.

Eventually, however, they got their feet back under them, determined to help Sam find his way and excel in life.

What they didn't count on were the disapproving looks, the bullying and how Sam would be ostracized at school, during soccer games, even at church.

“Parents told their kids they couldn't play with Sam,” said Jennifer Allen, who left a career in broadcasting and TV production shortly after Sam's diagnosis.

A form of high-functioning autism, Asperger's syndrome is sometimes called “the little professor syndrome” because children exhibit advanced speech and a laserlike focus on particular interests. But they also tend to lack empathy, get frustrated easily, and exhibit poor social skills.

Sam, for example, enjoys engineering and physics and studies Japanese for fun. But, according to his mother, other than his brother Charlie, he has “zero friends” his age. (All three are pictured)

When the Allens searched for resources to help Sam, they found little available. So, relying on her video expertise, Allen produced “Coping to Excelling”: Solutions for School-Aged Children Diagnosed with High-Functioning Autism or Asperger's Syndrome.”

The 68-minute documentary is aimed at families grappling with the realization that their child may take a different path in life than what they'd hoped for and dreamed of.

Far from being pessimistic, it suggests that many of society's most accomplished thinkers — from Albert Einstein to Steve Jobs — have exhibited traits of these disorders.

“In ‘The Social Network' everyone thought Mark Zuckerberg was a jerk,” Allen said. “But to me he was just someone who may have some degree of Asperger's. And that's the point of my documentary. These people may be the outcasts, the geeks, the nerds. But they're the ones who give us cellphones, computers and new medicines.”

Allen relied on the help of friends and family to make the documentary for $15,000, which included 1,000 copies of the DVD and a 48-page booklet. Pizzas slipped to a middle school custodial staff got them access to shoot several school hallway scenes during summer vacation.

While attending a conference in Dallas, she did several on-the-fly interviews with autism and Asperger's experts, including noted author, speaker and livestock expert Temple Grandin, whose story was told in an HBO film starring Claire Danes.

A recent private premiere of the documentary at a local theater attracted about 150 patients, family members, doctors, therapists and educators, including many who appear in the film. Grandin couldn't attend, but she recorded an opening message.

“High-functioning autism and Asperger's syndrome is a relatively new term that's not yet out in the public, so this is a good introduction,” said Dr. Chris Plauché Johnson, a retired pediatrics professor at the University of Texas Health Science Center and founder of Children's Association for Maximum Potential. “It does a good job translating what we know from a scientific and medical perspective to a more personal, family conversation.”

The documentary is divided into chapters dealing with the basics of high-functioning autism and Asperger's, maintaining the family unit, education options, bullying and social development.

Saturday, November 19, 2011

Condos, apartments' doors must open to service animals

From The Chicago Tribune:

Condominiums that don't allow pets must find workable solutions for residents who require medically-prescribed animals. If not, the association can end up in the doghouse — and worse.

The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development recently charged a Philadelphia condominium association with violating the Fair Housing Act because of its restrictive pet policies. The charge alleges that The Philadelphian Owners' Association required burdensome and invasive documentation from residents with disabilities before considering their requests for assistance animals and severely limited their access to the building's facilities when accompanied by assistance animals.

The FHA prohibits discrimination in housing on the basis of race, religion, disability and other attributes. Housing providers, which include homeowners and condominium associations, must make reasonable accommodations in rules, policies, practices or services when needed for a person with a mental or physical disability to have equal opportunity to use and enjoy a dwelling. Animals, for the most part, are reasonable accommodations.

The Americans with Disabilities Act, which addresses service animals, applies to public spaces, not to residential spaces like condominiums.

"The FHA is very clear that a reasonable accommodation should be granted when there is a legitimate, documented request that does not cause an undue burden or hardship for the owner or landlord," said Kathleen Clark, executive director of the nonprofit Lawyers' Committee for Better Housing in Chicago.

Animal companionship is known to help people function better and cope with a variety of conditions and disabilities, Clark added.

Associations that are found to discriminate can be ordered to pay damages, fines and attorneys' fees.

Requests increasing. In many no-pet and limited-pet associations, requests for assistance animals appear to be rising, said Chicago-based association attorney Michael C. Kim.

The problem is, not all requests are valid.

"I'm sure there is a legitimate basis in some situations, but, frankly, we also have the impression in other situations it is more a generic desire to have a pet," said Kim.

Sometimes, people move into a condominium, perhaps because of foreclosure or downsizing from a single-family home, and bring along Fido or Fifi without knowing the rules, said association attorney Stuart Fullett of Fullett Rosenlund Anderson PC in Lake Zurich.

"They're not going to get rid of the family dog, so they say it's an assistance animal," he said.

Associations are challenged to sort fact from fiction. If they deny a legitimate request, they risk going to court. If they allow an animal on suspicious pretenses, they undermine their rules and open the door to all sorts of exceptions.

"Sometimes we've seen a residual feeling that someone got away with a so-called accommodation that wasn't essential," said Kim. "It erodes the sense of community."

Associations don't have to roll over and grant every request. They have rights as well as restrictions. They can ask for documentation that indicates the person is disabled and the animal is necessary to relieve the effects of the condition, said Maurice McGough, HUD's Region 5 director of the Office of Fair Housing and Equal Opportunity in Chicago.

They can't ask about the nature and severity of the disability, treatment or prognosis, but they can request verification of the disability from a third party such as a medical professional or peer support group. They can insist that assistance animals be vaccinated and controlled, but they can't specify breeds and sizes, require training classes or relegate animals to freight elevators. Nor can they demand pet deposits, because assistance animals aren't considered pets.

"An assistance animal is analogous to wheelchairs," said McGough. "We've had cases where landlords try to charge extra deposits on wheelchairs because they bang into baseboards and leave marks. Residents are responsible for any damages done after the fact but not upfront."

Under certain conditions, associations can say no: If the accommodation poses a direct threat to other individuals or property, or if it results in unreasonable financial or administrative burden to the association, said McGough.

Fullett, who has encountered forged prescriptions and fake training certificates, said he starts the verification process by asking residents to provide whatever documentation they choose. Those with valid requests tend to overcomply, he said. If the documentation is suspect, he sends a form that permits him to contact the physician for information pertaining to the disability.

"Usually, when we give the form out, the situation disappears," he said.

McGough's advice to avoid expensive legal challenges: Recognize your obligation to make reasonable accommodations under appropriate circumstances, establish a policy for handling accommodation requests, demonstrate that requests are handled in a structured rather than arbitrary manner, keep good records of requests and show that you respond consistently.

At some point, other residents are likely to complain that they bought into a no-pet building and expect it to stay that way. Some may be allergic to animal dander and demand accommodations of their own. It's a tough call, said Fullett.

He compared pet restrictions with leasing amendments: You might move into a building that allows leasing, but the board can change the policy at any time.

"Most likely it will come down to a court determination," he said.

New film, "Cafe de Flore," delves into life of 1950s French mother of son with Down syndrome

From The Toronto Sun:

Cafe de Flore, a human drama crafted by Quebec master Jean-Marc Vallee of C.R.A.Z.Y. and The Young Victoria fame, is obviously not mainstream fare. But it is a great arthouse film.

To reach that status, it is powerful, subtle, poignant, intellectually daring, spiritually arresting and emotionally devastating. It requires its audience to work with the characters and their story. Vallee engages us in time shifts and creates a spiritual dimension that demands a willing suspension of disbelief.

Not even Vallee himself actually believes in reincarnation -- as he reveals in interviews -- but he utilizes the idea here as a storytelling device to probe into deeper matters. So your willingness to go with the flow is critical, and Cafe de Flore flows elegantly into the dark recesses of human existence, especially around issues of parenting and marital stability.

You end up guessing at the plot twists. That is the fun part. You marvel at the characters. That is when the film is more challenging. Vallee, as writer-director, explores the notion that an obsessive mother of a Down's Syndrome child in Paris in the 1950s is somehow connected to the lives of a divorced couple in modern Montreal.

The cast for this Canada-France co-production is absolutely sterling, with a core group leading the way with mesmerizing intensity and dignity. They absorb their characters and captivate us fully, which is necessary if we are to follow the subtle aspects of the film.

With no vanity whatsoever, Vanessa Paradis plays the Paris mother, a dowdy working class woman who sacrifices herself for the sake of an exceptional young boy who has Down's Syndrome. When her abusive husband leaves her, Paradis raises the child with a fierce protective sense that borders on madness. Yet we see and feel her true love.

Kevin Parent and Helene Florent play the contemporary Montreal couple. While he pursues his world-class career as a famous DJ -- music sophistication is as important in a Vallee film as life itself -- his marriage has fallen apart. When we meet him, he is already divorced and with another woman (Evelyne Brochu). His children are not that impressed and neither is his curmudgeonly father.

Meanwhile, Florent's life is in turmoil. She is a successful professional woman but finds herself disturbed by recurring nightmares. Daytime flashes connect her to Paradis and her son.

There is no point, of course, in breaking down Cafe de Flore into its elemental parts and plot tangents. It is not really about story in a straight narrative sense.

Even the title is not literal. While the real art deco Cafe de Flore is one of the shooting venues, along with locales in Montreal, the notion is more about the music it suggests. So the sounds of the past fuse seamlessly on the soundtrack with sounds of the present. It is a metaphor for what happens to the inner lives of the characters.

In Pakistan, state, society apathetic to plight of disabled people

From Pakistan Today:

MAHTAB BASHIR, Pakistan - Disabled people face a multitude of barriers that limit their access to education, employment, housing, transportation, health care, rehabilitation and recreation. And the disabled people with little or no means of support are among the poorest of the poor in Pakistan. In addition to other problems, transportation is the one disabled people in the capital are acutely facing.

With the devolution of the Ministry of Women Development, and Special Education, the problems of these underprivileged have increased manifold.
Talking to Pakistan Today a few of these special persons said on Friday that they had to face innumerable problems wherever they would go; be it a public park or a shopping mall or a hospital.

Though the CDA have designated special facilities for the special persons at public places but people often violate the rights of the disabled despite seeing warning signboards. The special people told this scribe that only 30,000 out of total 3.7 million disabled people in the country had access to basic education.

Hamza Khan, a 29-year-old disabled boy, said special persons usually had extraordinary qualities and talent compared to “normal” people.
“But in this part of the world they are being neglected everywhere. Special persons ought to be an important part of society and they do deserve attention, encouragement and love,” he said.

Talking about his daily ordeal, he said at the end of the day when after staying idle and confined to his home, he would go out to get some fresh air, he had to face trouble because people never minded the signboard reading “reserved for the disabled”. He said he just could bear with people’s encroaching upon parking spaces and slopes meant for the special persons.

Hamza said almost every special person wanted to be self-sufficient through training so he or she might not be a burden for those around him or her. “I believe that with vocational training the disabled can also contribute to their households and society,” he added. He lamented the fact the terrorism too had rendered many people disabled, who with proper care and training could become as useful to society as anybody else.

This scribe during a visit to Melody Food Park in Sector G/6 and Aabpara Market was shocked to see wheelchair ramps closed with barbwires in the name of security. The special people visiting the places were having a good deal of trouble.

On public transport as well, there are no reserved seats for special persons hence their mobility is further limited.

“I am a government employee working at the Pakistan Secretariat. I have to go to my office from Saddar in Rawalpindi on public transport. Since there are no seats reserved for the disabled, I have to board a van after a considerable physical effort, particularly in the morning,” said Kashif Pervaiz, a commuter with physical disability.

Talking to this scribe, Jamal Hussain, a person with impaired vision, said the rights of the special persons in Pakistan were at stake because the rulers had always been busy in serving their own interests. He said not a single policymaker in any government ever bothered about the plight of the disabled.

He cited the societies of the developed world where a special attention was given to the disabled people there.

He demanded government should announce a 50 percent concession for special people in transport fares, utility bills. He said there should also be a state allowance for the disabled. Syed Mustafain Kazmi, the director general of Directorate General of Special Education and Social Welfare, said that since the ministry’s devolution, his department’s jurisdiction was limited to the capital.

“Currently, 26 government centers are providing services to 1,500 special people in the twin cities. A consolidated survey to find out more information about the special children was being planned with the help of international agencies. We will not tolerate any discriminatory behaviour against special children”, Kazmi said.

He stressed that parents should not take their special children as an embarrassment and rather they should send them to special education centers and encourage them to become active members of the society.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

In UK, disabled travellers lament lack of transport access for 2012 Olympics

From The Guardian in the UK:

Iman Saab has just been left behind by a London bus that she needed to take because her two nearest underground stations are inaccessible to her. After 20 minutes, another half-empty bus arrives but once again she is unable to board. The reason? The space she and her wheelchair would take is occupied by a pushchair and baby whose accompanying parent fails to move to let Saab in.

It's a frustrating start to a journey Saab is taking with the Guardian to Stratford International, the nearest station to the Olympic stadium, to illustrate the experiences of people with disabilities on London's transport network.

As the 2012 Olympics and Paralympics approach, and amid claims that they will be the most accessible ever, disability activists say the city is losing sight of that goal as austerity-driven cuts bite.

Rather than leaving a legacy that could transform the lives of tens of thousands of people with disabilities across the city, campaigners say that 2012 could be an embarrassment.

"Ironically, it seems as if the apartheid in the transport system is getting worse rather than better in the runup to the Paralympics," said Jonathan Bartley, a Green party candidate for the London assembly who, as the father of a boy with spina bifida, tackled David Cameron on last year's election trail over the alleged
segregation of disabled children in the education system.

Nearly 80% of tube stations are still not accessible, including some serving Olympic venues, according to the campaign group Transport for All, while the everyday experience of wheelchair users attempting to navigate the city is one of being unable to board buses and being ignored by taxis, the group said.

Disability campaigners, who put Boris Johnson under pressure recently at the mayor's Disability Capital Conference 2011, accuse Transport for London (TfL) of cutting targets on making bus stops accessible and stations step-free, and of cutting staff.

After reaching Waterloo station Saab takes a lift down to the Jubilee line platform and boards a train shortly before lunchtime. It's not always so easy – try getting a wheelchair on to a tube during morning and evening rush hour. Also, while the carriages in this case are fairly level with the train – the Jubilee is the newest tube line – at other times there would be a need for a helping hand from a staff member, if one was around.

The journey improves further after changing on to the Docklands Light Railway, with its spacious trains, raised hand bar and flip-up seats.

Last month brought negative pre-Olympic publicity for transport authorities. They were accused of breaking the law, following the emergence of an internal TfL email instructing staff not to send "VIPs" – visually impaired people – to Victoria station during evening peak hours due to refurbishments for the next few weeks.

"There have been a few instances recently where VIPs have turned up at Victoria during this time and it has caused some problems," it read.

It brought a rebuke from the Royal London Society for Blind People, which has its headquarters around the corner from the station and was taken entirely by surprise.

"London Underground has an ongoing legal duty to blind and partially sighted people under the Disability Discrimination Act," said its director, Sue Sharp.

"Failure to honour their obligations as they carry out repairs and refurbishments would be both illegal and a serious dereliction of their duty."

Bob Crow, general secretary of the RMT union, joined the criticism: "RMT warned when TfL bulldozed through their station staffing cuts as part of Boris Johnson's £5bn cuts programme that the visually impaired and people with other disabilities would be hit hard and here we have the concrete proof."

For visually impaired people such as Mohammed Mohsanali, one of the greatest obstacles may be other passengers, as he sets off from Victoria on a similar Stratford-bound journey to that taken by Saab.

At one point a tall man in a suit passes through the ticket stiles in front of Mohsanali, who touches his pass to open the barriers again. Turning around, the man charges back through the stiles, glancing at Mohsanali and his white cane before shouldering past. "You have to accept that you can't control people," says
Mohsanali, who takes the jostling with a resigned smile, adding that he often asks members of the public for assistance.

As for TfL, he gives it seven marks out of 10, docking points for poor communication about problems such as diversions and closures.

Arriving into at the gleaming new station at Stratford, he says it was one he tends to avoid due to its layout, and notes the absence of audio announcements throughout his trip to and from Stratford International.

And Transport staff are also a mixed picture. While his experience of bus drivers in south London was excellent, he avoided taking buses in the east, where he said drivers were less helpful.

"Some just remain silent when you ask a question. Others don't know where the bus terminates," he adds.

Of most concern to him and Transport for All were the cuts, which they say mean less staff. Faryal Velmi, Transport for All's director, said: "What is the point of TfL spending millions of pounds on improving access on the tube when the staff are not there to assist people? With the Olympics and Paralympics round the corner, we only dread to think what will happen when disabled visitors and even Paralympians attempt to use the tube."

In the often embittered industrial relations on London's transport network, the RMT union says that outlying stations are sometimes now left unstaffed, monitored instead from a one nearby. But TfL insists unmanned stations do not exist, adding that the Oyster card system means the number of customers using ticket offices has declined sharply.

Wayne Trevor, London Underground's accessibility manager, said: "We are on track to help deliver a fantastic Olympic and Paralympic Games and are fully committed to making our network as accessible as possible both for 2012 and beyond.

"We have invested hundreds of millions of pounds in accessibility improvements over the last few years, meeting and exceeding the transport improvement commitments that we made."

A total of 63 tube stations now have step-free access, with two more due to be ready by the time the Games arrive, and there is a network of 8,500 low-floor buses fitted with wheelchair ramps and onboard visual and audio announcements – the most accessible network in the country. Of the Victoria station situation, Trevor said all passengers had been asked to use an alternative station if possible after the start of refurbishments in January. Alternative transport to Victoria was organised for visually impaired passengers from nearby stations.

After arriving in Stratford on a journey that took 20 minutes longer than TfL's online journey planner had predicted, Iman Saab is nevertheless impressed by what she finds. "This is a very good station in terms of access," she says. "It would be great if this could be the future standard for other stations elsewhere."

European Union disability survey shows disabled people live in 'terror' of the future because of service cuts

From the EU Observer:

BRUSSELS - Already at the margins of society by virtue of casual discrimination, disabled people are often among the worst hit by the waves of austerity measures being put in place right across the European Union.

As governments seek to cut their budget deficits, social services and aid - which make a difficult life more bearable or in some cases simply liveable - have been sharply cut back.

A study compiled by the European Disability Forum shows that disabled people are feeling effects of the austerity drive sweeping Europe in a variety of ways, including cuts in disability allowances, a reassessment of disability status and a reduction in services for disabled people.

In the UK, over 400,000 disabled people will be affected by a decision to limit employment and support allowance to one year. In the Netherlands, the number of people eligible for a personal budget scheme, used for things such as home nursing, has been cut by 90 percent. A decision to reduce supported employment for those with intellectual disabilities in Spain could see up to 12,000 such jobs being lost.

In countries such as Belgium, Greece, Italy and the UK, there has been a drive to crack down on disability fraud. But the nature of debate, simplified by screaming tabloid headlines, tends to crank up prejudice towards disabled people.

Meanwhile, the superficial discourse hides the fact that changing the eligibility criteria often means fewer disabled people are entitled to money - fitting in with the budget-saving objective.

In short, disabled people across Europe are finding that the gains of recent years - societal inclusion, a voice in legislative discussions, and awareness-raising, risk being wiped out by the impact of the financial and economic crisis that started to be felt about three years ago. And behind the numbers, peoples’ lives are being turned upside down.

No room for optimism
“There does not seem to be any room for optimism. You can understand people considering suicide. You have to remain belligerent and strong, otherwise you would land in manic depression,” says John Evans, a severely disabled wheelchair user needing a permanent assistant.

In his native UK, benefits been have cut and a new more rigorous assessment system is expected to see many no longer eligible for funding.

Meanwhile, the Independent Living Fund, which helps Evans and 21,000 other severely disabled people live at home rather than in care homes, will be stopped in 2015.

“I don’t want to think what the situation will be in five years' time because the scenario is very, very grim indeed,” says Evans, who is an active rights campaigner for disabled people.

Conferences and events dealing with this issue are full of people not simply “concerned” about the cuts, but “terrified” by them, he notes.

These types of hardships are being felt across Europe.

"The situation of disabled people in Greece has immensely worsened due to the crisis,” says Yannis Vardakastanis, a prominent disability campaigner in the troubled eurozone country, which is implementing harsh austerity measures in return for international aid.

Vardakastanis, who is blind, says that disabled people have been hit both by government cuts in pensions and salaries and a dropping off in employment possibilities.

“Even during prosperity, disabled people are the first to be fired, the last to be hired. So in a crisis, they are the first to be fired and are not hired at all.”

He also points to the “tremendous impact” of budget cuts on educational and training services for disabled people, noting that one under-reported consequence of the lack of money could be that mentally disabled people are returned to psychiatric hospitals because there are no longer the resources to support them in the community.

’Cuts across the board’
Siobhan Kane, from Inclusion Ireland, the national association for people with mental disability, points to the policy impact of the cuts in her country, another eurozone bail-out state.

“Those key pieces of legislation were one of the first things to be shelved when the going got tough in 2008,” she says, referring to the National Disability Strategy, designed to boost inclusion and social involvement, launched in 2004.

Disability allowances have been cut by almost €900 euro a year since 2008. Carers allowances have also been cut. And services that were previously free – such as “respite” care giving tired relatives a day’s break from looking after disabled loved one – are now no longer so. “The cuts went across the board,” notes Kane.

Tiny Latvia, meanwhile, is seen by some as the austerity poster child for being on the way to achieving a fiscal adjustment of 16 percent of GDP after the 2008 collapse of Lehman Brother’s put an end to its booming economy.

But the social effects of what is said to be one the world’s harshest austerity programme have been great.

Gunta Anca, chair of Sustento, an umbrella association for disability in the country, says "people still they feel things are going down and down and this is especially so for people with disability".

Governments bailing themselves out
The rate of unemployment, which peaked last year at 21 percent, means it is "almost impossible" for disabled people get a job in Latvia, while losing a job as a disabled person means losing all income as there are no disability allowances, unlike in many other EU countries.

In addition, notes Anca, the number of disabled people in the country has been "rising quickly" in the last two years because people cannot afford the rising costs of healthcare, so pushing an illness into disability. Yet the technical equipment remains scarce. It can take a year to get a wheelchair.

The European Disability Forum is seeking to raise awareness of the effects of budget cuts on disabled people across Europe ahead of European Day of People with Disabilities on 1 December.

Evans, who campaigns on behalf of the EDF, says: “We know the debt crisis needs to be addressed but there seems to be no assessment of the long-term effects that these cuts will have on the quality of lives of disabled people in the future.”

“The governments bailed out the banks and now they are in a position of trying to bail themselves out. We didn’t get ourselves into this situation.”

Monday, November 14, 2011

"Rollin' with Zach Anner," trailer for his new show, out now! Show will premiere December 12

From the OWN network (view his show trailer at this link).

Zach Anner is obsessed with travel. In Rollin' With Zach, he takes an authentic and often humorous approach to seeing the country, as he hosts his own half-hour travel series.

Zach may have cerebral palsy, but that's never stopped him! In every episode, Zach explores a new city and conquers his "top five" list for the destination.

In season one of Rollin' With Zach, he travels from coast to coast, visiting Los Angeles, Chicago, New York, San Francisco, Las Vegas and Portland.

Each episode is filled with humor and emotion, as Zach meets new people, indulges in his favorite treats, and attempts new and exciting experiences he never thought possible!

From surfing to sailing, rock climbing to water-skiing, he challenges himself to try the unexpected, and at times - the seemingly impossible.

And when things don't go as planned, Zach embraces the problem with his sharp sense of humor and a positive attitude, because travel is an adventure and sometimes you just have to "roll with it!"

Rollin' with Zach will premiere with back-to-back episodes beginning Monday, December 12 from 8:00 - 9:00 p.m. ET/PT.

In Africa, soccer championship for amputees brings hope to war victims

From The Economist:

Africa's recent history is punctuated with nasty civil wars. Angola, Congo, Liberia, Sierra Leone, Sudan and others. Most are now over, leaving behind millions of survivors, many short of one or more limbs.

The nimblest in several nations have banded together in football teams and will play each other at a continent-wide tournament in Ghana from November 18th.

The idea is to give hope to amputees, says an organiser, who “might think life has come to an end”.

Amputee football, which was played elsewhere in the world before its African debut in 2003, has its own rules. The tournament in Ghana is seven-a-side; most players are single-leg amputees (although those with one incapacitated leg are also permitted); goalkeepers have one hand.

Samuel Tengbeh, a 28-year-old member of the Liberian team, lost his leg in 1999 during the country’s civil war and long felt demoralised.

“I truly believe we are going to do our best now,” he said. African countries with mostly peaceful histories man their teams with accident victims.

Francis Antwi-Darkwah, a Ghanaian, lost his right leg in a car crash. He believes amputee football allows the disabled to present themselves in a more positive light.

“The community usually looks down on less privileged people,” he said.

Eight countries have confirmed that they are taking part in the tournament: Angola, Ghana, Kenya, Liberia, Niger, Nigeria, Senegal and Sierra Leone.

Lindsay Maggs, who is making a documentary film about amputee players, says the sport offers them “a sense of hope, camaraderie and purpose”.

In Maryland, new autism program, PAW Pals, encourages positive interaction with both autistic, neurotypical children

From The Baltimore Sun in Maryland. In the picture, Kay Holman began a neighborhood play group that encourages children to be inclusive of children with autism.

The Roth family moved to Phoenix in Baltimore County a year ago to be closer to better services for their 7-year-old daughter, Avery, who is autistic.

By chance, their new neighbor, Katherine "Kay" Holman, was experienced in crafting inclusive programs for children with autism.

"We were still in the process of moving in when she introduced herself," Jenni Roth recalled. "I looked her up, and said, 'Oh my.' It worked out really well."

The families quickly formed a friendship that led to Holman's organizing a neighborhood group called PAW Pals. The play group is composed of a controlled number of kids — both typical-learning and autistic. During structured sessions, the youths learn how to play and socialize with one another in activities such as running a mock cafe or going on a pirate-themed treasure hunt. The group is named after the street, Princess Ann Way, where the participants live. Holman's next step is to introduce the program to schools.

"I've found that there are a lot of supports in the school setting, but when they come home, they need to socialize and connect with people in the community," Holman said. "PAW Pals gives them ways to engage. It gives them the supportive framework to play with peers."

The Roths were searching for additional programs for their daughter, who has moderate to high-functioning autism, outside the classroom. PAW Pals is geared toward typical-learning children, which appealed to them.

"All of the [other] programs focus on training the child with the disability to interact with society, as opposed to the other way around," she said. "This is kind of nice because it is taking some of the onus off of Avery and places it on some of her peers."

Holman launched PAW Pals last summer with Avery and other neighborhood children. The group met twice a week for 21/2 hours each session. The lengthy meetings allowed Holman to establish a routine and teach "play clues" or social rules specifically designed to help engage Avery in play, according to Holman.

"You want to establish a group identity," said Holman, who recommends a more intensive approach for the first three months of the program.

Now that the routine and rules have been established, the group meets every week for an activity. The program can be structured to meet the needs of individual children, according to Holman. Costs for the program can be as low as paying someone with a trained degree to lead the group in activities, according to Holman.

"The idea is that it is not a complete prescribed program," she said. "It can be individualized for your group. Some children might need a little more practice."

Teaching children — both typical-learning and autistic — the proper way to interact with one another, coupled with structured activities, has helped the once-reticent Avery break out of her shell. When she first moved to the neighborhood, Avery stood to the side while the rest of the neighborhood children played. Now she's more comfortable doing group activities.

The key, Holman said, is to teach the children the proper strategies to better communicate and socialize. Typical-developing children in the program have been taught to be more direct when speaking to Avery by, say, tapping her on the shoulder to get her attention or welcoming her by extending an open hand.

"We're training peers with ways of engaging one another," said Holman, who works as an assistant professor in the department of special education at Towson University.

Avery's brother, Mason, 9, who also participates in the program, has noticed changes in himself and his younger sister.

"Usually she would be running around and doing her own thing," Mason said. "Now I can actually tell her stuff, and she listens. I've learned how to talk to my sister."

Her mother added that Avery's favorite activity was the PAW Pals Cafe, an activity where the children set up a mock cafe, made snacks and practiced serving food to one another.

"She liked giving people her order for food," Jenni Roth said. "Her attention was maintained throughout. … Maintaining attention is always difficult, but her attention span in this environment has improved. I've seen it getting longer and longer."

The Roths and Holman are quick to point out that there is not necessarily a direct link between Avery's changes and her participation in PAW Pals. Avery participates in a different type of activity or therapy almost every day of the week.

"It's hard to point out a cause-and-effect relationship," her father said. "But [her interaction with others] certainly has gotten easier."

Holman has taken years of research and experience to craft the PAW Pals program. She based her research from a similar program she conducted in a school-based setting six years ago in Montgomery County. Holman also ran an inclusion camp at Kennedy Kreiger Institute several years ago.

"This is what makes our world go round — having this tolerance and acceptance," Holman said. "These are life skills that will serve them way beyond their academic careers. We know that if you don't have social connections, you have a significantly decreased social life."

Holman's ultimate goal is to pilot the program on a schoolwide level.

"The school would have a universal PAW Pals program," Holman explained. "The whole school would work off of these issues of respect."

While many school systems offer specialized programs, inclusion classrooms, and co-teaching models, there is still room for improvement, according to Holman.

"Unfortunately, teachers are just not adequately prepared to meet the needs of autistic children," Holman said. "We have a little bit further to go. That comes back to training. Some [teachers] have had very limited training. A lot of the schools are supporting their teachers and sending them back to school. Hopefully we'll see continued improvement in the next couple of years."

One of the greatest benefits of the program is the effect it has on the typical-learning children, Holman said.

Both of Holman's children, Liam, 7, and Lily Wynn, 5, participate, and she said the program has affected her son's behavior in school, too.

"I've observed him taking a greater awareness and looking out for students [with autism]," Holman said. "It is important as a mother and program developer that this carries over to other settings as well."

Jenni Roth has also seen a difference in Avery's brother, Mason.

"He's proud of her," she said. "He's really getting it. Before he was like, 'She's a pain.' Now he knows that everyone is different. He is so proud of her."

Mason thinks that the program should be adopted elsewhere.

"It would help them communicate with their brother or sister with autism," he said.

"It's a place where we can hang out and play," Mason said. "We're slowly learning how to play with Avery. I think a year from now, I will be able to play whatever I want with her."

In North Carolina, Paralympics program provides opportunity to grow new athletes

From WBTV:

CHARLOTTE, N.C. - The Paralympic Experience gave a chance for people with disabilities to show how they can shine in the sports world.

The Marion Diehl Recreation Center on Tyvola Road drew athletes of all ages this weekend, from children to adults.

People got to try cycling, archery, kayaking, but swimming was the most popular sport.

"On land their movements are a little choppy, their legs and arms may not work quite as well," said Paralympic Cyclist Aaron Trent. "But you put them in a pool...all these barriers are just gone," he said.

Trent say some people are trying a sport for the first time. He hopes some gain confidence and take their experience to the next level.

The Paralympics is affiliated with the Olympic Games